Poppy looked different yesterday when she hopped out of the car after soccer practice.
She was glowing a little more than usual, but that was probably just from spending an hour and a half running around the soccer field. She’s been growing her pixie cut out, so she’s currently a bit shaggy around the edges. But that wasn’t it either. I shrugged it off and gave her a hug and we went inside to finish our day with a late dinner and an episode of “Blackish.”
Poppy is 79 days into being 12. Twelve hasn’t been the easiest age for her. She had her first breakup this year, and a lot of her homeschooled friends joined the public school ranks. She was cut from her soccer team, and two-thirds of her three-person tae kwon do crew advanced to the next belt level without her.
She’s weathered it all with aplomb, but I know it’s been difficult for her.
Poppy’s always been slow to wake up in the mornings, much like her mother. It was lovely letting our mornings unfold slowly when she was 6. It’s more stressful now that she’s 12 and has a 12-year-old’s schedule and responsibilities. This morning, as I have most every morning for the last 12 years, I rubbed her head and told her it was time to get up.
“I’m heading to the shower,” I said. “You need to be up and getting ready when I get out.”
She stretched and grunted and I headed to the shower, full in the knowledge that I’d be waking her up again in a few minutes.
There was a Boy for a brief moment. They texted a lot and went to a dance together, and then the fascination just kind of faded away. It stung, but I think most of that sting came from not knowing how to be friends again. They’re working on it.
Those former homeschooled friends, we don’t see much of them any more. That stung, too, at first, but Poppy has found that there are more friendly kids out there and, as a pretty friendly kid herself, she hasn’t had much trouble befriending them.
Sometimes she surprises me. I came out of the bathroom this morning and there she was in my bedroom, her hair going every which way and her arms stretched to the sky.
I think the sports setbacks stung the most of all. I’m not sure what happened with soccer tryouts. She was on the team last year, and I suspect she figured that was 90 percent of the battle. Getting cut from the team was a bitter and tearful way to learn that she actually did need to bring 100 percent of her effort to tryouts.
Poppy is a red-black belt in tae kwon do, as were two of her friends. They’ve talked a lot about testing for black belt together. But when the other girls were ready to test for recommended black belt, Poppy just wasn’t quite there.
We’ve talked a lot about Kyle Schwarber this year. Schwarber won the World Series and then got sent back to the minors. Which was almost certainly mortifying for him, but he didn’t quit. He set a goal and worked hard and made it back onto the Cubs.
So Poppy, she’s taken a cue from Schwarber. She’s spent this season playing soccer at a less prestigious level, and she committed to going to two additional practices every week to help build her skills for next year’s tryouts. She’s going to as many tae kwon do classes as she can fit into a week, and she’s meeting outside of class with her instructors to ask for constructive criticism and to hone her skills.
She still looked different this morning, and I still couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was. I shrugged it off and gave her a hug and then I saw it.
Poppy’s sweet sleepy gaze was in the wrong place. Her eyes were in the wrong place, and her nose was in the wrong place, and her pillow-wild mop was in the wrong place.
Until very recently I’ve always seen her face from above. She’s been exactly the same height as me for long enough to get used to seeing eye-to-eye with her, literally if not always figuratively. And now, suddenly, I’m looking up at her.
This kid. She grew a quarter of an inch in 18 days. She’s grown leaps and bounds more than that emotionally since her birthday 79 days ago.
And all I can do is give her the tools she needs and then sit over here on the sidelines cheering her on. The growing pains are so tough, but watching her grow is such a beautiful thing.